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  • Meanders and Dams: Lost in Modoc country

    Between the limited volume of water stored in Clear Lake Reservoir, the low inflow forecast, and estimated evaporation and seepage rates, Reclamation cannot make discretionary releases from Clear Lake Reservoir during 2015. 
    - Bureau of Reclamation, April 2015

    A basin in the Modoc country of far northeast California gathers the inflowing water of Willow Creek from some million acres from the south and east. Prior to completion of the Clear Lake Reservoir Dam in 1910 the water flow made a sweeping turn through a lake called Tchápsxo by the Modoc.  Magically it became the beginning of Lost River. The river crossed north into Oregon, undulated northerly and westerly for a hundred miles, and eventually flowed into Tule Lake as that basin’s major replenisher. Today, for management purposes over a million acres of Modoc County is known as the Upper Lost River Watershed, a California segment of the Klamath Project.

    Rock art of the Upper Lost River is not well-documented or well-understood. In this extreme drought year, I wonder does rock art bear on the future of  productivity and well-being –even survival– of the people, animals, and plants of Modoc, Siskiyou, and Klamath counties? Directly, no, it does not. Yet, as a sideways reminder of time and change, seems to me it may. Walking the canyons, standing at the dam, I witness meanderings, a profound circle of season, and the vast cycles of this expansive lava plateau. Feeling time returning in curves immemorial. As with all the clear lakes and lost rivers of our journeys, we ask will it always be so?

    Some Petroglyphs of Upper Lost River

    [1] 2015 Annual Operations Plan, Klamath Project, Bureau of Reclamation, April 2015, p.3

    Note. The immediate Clear Lake area holds a tense and painful historical legacy.  Modoc villages for centuries until the mid-1800s. The Applegate Trail crossed to the north in the mid 1800s.  Modoc native peoples relocated to the Klamath Reservation in 1864. The last days of the Modoc War in 1873.  Carr’s ranch and walls held area, 1870s-1890s.  Diversions of Lost River from the 1880s to the dam completion in 1910.   President T. Roosevelt proclaimed the Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge in 1911. Lost River sucker and the shortnose sucker listed as Endangered Species in 1988. Into the 21st century: increasing drought as symptom of global heating.